Context Book: The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

Nicholas Carr in The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Brains takes his readers on a journey through the history of the brain. His quest is to discover if and how the Internet, which is always on and always prompting its users to decide ‘should I, or should I not click on this hyperlink,’ has changed his brain and ours. What he discovered is yes! The Internet has changed how we use our brain. Carr finds it frightening that people can no longer concentrate for long periods of time reading and thinking deeply, because of the changes that have occurred.

Here is a video which summarizes Carr’s main points:

 

When I was about two-thirds through the book I started questioning why does it really matter that our brain has changed? Even Carr admits that throughout the centuries our brains have changed, so that now people perform better on IQ tests than they did a century ago simply because our education has changed and therefore our brains. He argues that the Internet is eroding our culture since we are out sourcing our memory to the Internet. But, I would argue that our culture is not fading away, but only changing. Just like cultures are different throughout the world, they change from generation to generation. There is nothing inherently wrong with either culture, just different and one is more familiar to us than the other. For example I was encouraging a Hungarian friend to try drying her towels in the dryer while in Sweden [most Hungarians don’t have dyers], so she could have soft fluffy towels [like I enjoy as someone who grew up in Canada with a dyer], she responded by saying “I’ve had hard towels my whole life, why would I want anything else?” Perhaps, Carr wishing he and everyone else would still be able to concentrate for long periods of time is like my friend wanting hard towels? It is what he has always known.

What does this mean for us emerging hyperlinked librarians? It means that we do not need to be afraid of the changing culture of our brains, because they are always changing. We can be free to adapt our programs and spaces to this new reality. We should be using new technology, as Jenny (Clark, 2015, September 3) did in creating her craft club, to link things together as they are on the web. This the new normal in our society and we should embrace it in our libraries and not shy away.

At the same time we should not ignore what Carr is saying. He states at the end of his first chapter “I missed my old brain” (p.16) and I would guess that there are other people who miss how their brains functioned before the advent of the Internet. These people are also users of our libraries, so they should not be ignored when planning our programs and spaces. When conducting surveys of users, as encouraged by Casey and Savastinuk (2007), we need to be sure that we are listening to the voices who still desire a library which is quiet and conductive to linear thought.

In essence we need to make space in our libraries for both hyperlinked minds as well as deep thinking, contemplative minds.

 

References:

Carr, N. (2011). The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Brains. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service [electronic book]. Medford, NJ.: Information Today.

Clark, J. (2015, September 3). The hyperlinked library model. Retrieved from http://287.hyperlib.sjsu.edu/librarylady/2015/09/03/the-hyperlinked-library-model/

 

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16 Responses to Context Book: The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

  1. Julie Herring says:

    Hi Andrea,
    I really like the architecture of the page layout you chose. This is visually very well-organized. What layout is this called?

    I enjoyed reading this post because I tend to be more cautious of new tech – a natural pessimist I suppose. I enjoy reading sci-fi lit, or watching sci-fi shows/movies that underscore the potential harm done by new technology. I actually LOVE the internet, and grew up with computers (my dad was a computer programmer and I remember he’d bring home punch cards for me to play with – I remember the big, real, “floppy” disks, too!) so it’s not that I’m reluctant to adopt new tech, I very much do want to embrace it (that’s why I’m taking this class). It’s just that changes, like those discussed in the book you chose, have consequences, and I like to explore the pros AND the cons… 🙂

    If you enjoyed the book you chose, you might also enjoy (oh, god – I am an old school librarian ‘cuz here I go with a book recommendation, LOL!) Neil Postman’s “Technopoly – The Surrender of Culture to Technology”. I started reading this before this class started and was intrigued. I’ll pick it back up again after the semester is over, but thought I’d share that title with you if you like this kind of consideration of the cons.

    I agree with you that until the cultural pendulum shifts, we should try to accommodate both types of patrons, like you said. To do otherwise, at this stage in the evolution of tech adoption, would be too exclusive. We still have folks who need/want/have the “old” mindset. And that’s not always a bad thing.

    Like

  2. Andrea Meszaros says:

    Hi Julie (@julieherring),

    The theme is called ‘Flower Power.’

    Many times I too am cautious of new technology, but when I wrote this book review I was coming off a form we were doing in my international librarianship course and I was thinking a lot about culture and how we trend to cling to what we know best. But I do think it is best to avoid doom and gloom attitudes and looking down on how young people do thing.

    This TEDtalk https://youtu.be/J4VzuWmN8zY encouraging young people to make up words is a great way to encourage young people to create culture and do their thing.

    Like

  3. Julie Herring says:

    Hi Andrea,
    Just wanted to let you know reviewing you post helped me figure out how to categorize my own. I’m new to blogging, Word Press, etc., so I’m learning little things here and there. Thanks!

    Like

  4. Kristen Amaral says:

    “Carr finds it frightening that people can no longer concentrate for long periods of time reading and thinking deeply, because of the changes that have occurred.”

    I read this idea not too long ago. It was referencing how college students can not read the required readings for homework because they lack the skill or brain development to concentrate for the length of time needed to digest the information.

    This to me is super scary!

    Cute video!

    Thank you for the book report.

    Kris

    Like

  5. Jenny Clark says:

    Hey Andrea! Thanks for the shout-out! 🙂

    I 100% agree with you, technology has changed our brains but that is OK! You should read Marilyn Johnson’s This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All – she praises technology use in libraries but she was hesitant as she felt inexperienced. The great thing about libraries is that if someone feels left behind in the digital age, they can receive computer help from their local librarian!

    P.S. I loved the anecdote about the towels – how funny!

    Like

  6. Joanna Novick says:

    Hi Andrea,

    I have read Carr’s article on this, so I am wondering if in the book he provides evidence for his theory of the changing brain. I certainly did not dismiss his ideas from article, but he tended to support his arguments with anecdotes.

    I also appreciate your message of not being afraid of change. I think this is key with all of the rapid changes that are taking place in our society.

    Nice report!

    Like

  7. Jess says:

    Hi Andrea! “The Shallows” was the other book I wanted to read (and if I find the time, I might still do that!) I was talking with my mother the other day about how weird it is that she only has a cell phone now (my parents got rid of their landline a couple years ago) and I can never reach her because the phone isn’t glued to her side. This lead into conversation about the way communicating with people has changed over the years. It makes sense that the internet is changing our brains, but like all new technology, it has an effect on our thought-process and behaviors.

    I loved your “real-world” example about you and your Hungarian friend. You’re right – there’s nothing wrong with liking hard or soft towels, it’s just different. Though that was the difference between countries, I have had similar exchanges within different parts of the United States. I lived in one city for most of my life and when I moved across the country to a new one, it was a culture shock. Things were different, and I didn’t like it! But I’ve come to even “adopt” some parts of my new culture!

    I think your last sentence is a perfect takeaway – making space for ALL mindsets!

    Like

  8. Jess says:

    @krislib – I always thought it was my ADHD that made it difficult for me to make it through all the readings. Maybe this is why so many kids are being diagnosed with this disorder – “digital natives” are being hardwired differently!

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  9. I commented in Canvas but wanted to do it here too: “When I was about two-thirds through the book I started questioning why does it really matter that our brain has changed?”

    AMEN to that! I must admit I am suspect of the conclusions drawn in this work. I would also argue we may not know how are brains are evolving – what did major advances in tech do to us? The print press? the telephone? Television?

    Like

  10. Andrea Meszaros says:

    @krislib “I read this idea not too long ago. It was referencing how college students can not read the required readings for homework because they lack the skill or brain development to concentrate for the length of time needed to digest the information.”

    I actually wonder if the reason college students struggle to do all there reading has to do with technology or not. Forty or 50 years go few people went to college and I would assume that those who did actually WANTED to go to college and had a desire to student, while today everyone is told that to get a good job they HAVE to go to college. Maybe the reason why so many people struggle with their college reading is because their heart is just not in it or they struggle academically and a generation or two ago they wouldn’t have even gone to college?

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  11. Kris says:

    @ameszaros
    “Maybe the reason why so many people struggle with their college reading is because their heart is just not in it or they struggle academically and a generation or two ago they wouldn’t have even gone to college?”

    I would like to respond to this statement.

    I deal with young men and women daily in my job. I have also been an educator for over 30 years.

    I am seeing a pattern. Due to the culture we are cultivating in instant information, we are training our brains in a different way. In order to read a long passage, you need to have built over time an increased vocabulary and to train your brain to visually track in a way that allows you to take in information. There is also the issue of brain mapping. We train our brain to respond in a certain way, and this is how habits are formed.

    I also see a pattern in what type of books kids want to check out in the library. They want Wimpy Kid, Dork Diaries, etc. They want books that are in comic book form, ones that are thin, and I quote “Do not have a lot of words”. I can only imagine this has a lot to do with how we text to get information these days. People want a caption and a picture. Many do not have the patience to read through a document. Instant gratification is a trend. People are making judgements based on headlines and not content.

    Here is some more info:

    http://simpleviewofreading.wikispaces.com/file/view
    /Reading+strategies+for+exec+func..pdf

    http://www.breakingthecycles.com/blog/2013/02/20/understand-brain-maps-change-habit-change-your-life/

    Like

  12. Daniel Kiely says:

    @ameszaros while I haven’t read the science behind this book, I know that I struggle with multitasking– getting off task and struggling to get back to my original task. I would guess that it isn’t only tech that is changing out brains, it is also the cultural expectations to be always be available– cell phone, IM, email, etc.

    @krislib while I don’t have studies at the ready to include (I will look today), graphic (graphic novels, comic books) literacy is a different kind of literacy than reading text only, and it is equally as important IMHO. Patience and critical thinking are required to ingest both text and pictures. It seems like what is happening in your school/library is a very good thing.

    Like

  13. Kristen Amaral says:

    @k2theiely
    Thanks for the feedback!

    Like

  14. Andrea Meszaros says:

    @k2theiely – I don’t disagree with having difficulties to stay focused by self, but at the same time I just felt that Carr did not provide a good argument of why we should be so concerned. I think that in Quiet Susan Cain did a better job of showing what can actually be accomplished when we spend long periods of undivided attention on one task.

    I also agree with you about books with graphics uses different types of literacy. @krislib if you take enough time to really look at some of the quality graphic novels they take a lot of brain power to try understand what is happening in the story and they are not ‘quick’ reads. I’m not saying that is how the students treat them. I think that my students read them quickly. Maybe they need an adult to sit down with them and actually help them learn how to ‘read’ these types of materials just like teach students to read words.

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  15. Daniel Kiely says:

    @ameszaros @krislib from Raising a Reader: How Comics & Graphic Novels Can Help Your Kids Love to Read! by Meryl Jaffe, PhD. Book: http://cbldf.org/resources/raising-a-reader/ Page: http://d.pr/f/UHB6

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  16. Andrea Meszaros says:

    @k2theiely thank you for sharing. I don’t have time to read it right now since it really is past my bedtime, but I can say as beginning Hungarian reader that having pictures with the words really do help me learn new vocabulary as they help me connect the word to the picture.

    Like

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